Navigational issues hinder performance on standardized exams

Dive Brief:

  • With exams increasingly going digital, more attention is being given to the need for more navigability — especially with a recent study from the American Association for the Advancement of Science showing lower scores on digital exams that didn't allow elementary and middle school students to revisit previous questions, according to reporting from Education Week and Ed Tech: Focus on K-12. 
  • In the AAAS study, high school students showed relatively similar performance on both the paper and digital versions of the exams, and while ELL students performed worse than their peers on both versions, the differences were significantly higher on the digital exam.
  • Ed Tech reports that, in a recent blog post, educator Jennifer Findley suggested acclimating students to the format by using tools like Google Forms to mimic it, while other recommendations provided include acclimating students to a variety of test formats with practice exams and having "think-aloud" testing sessions to give educators a better idea of where exactly students struggle.


Dive Insight:

While the recommendations from the article are all helpful, the easiest solution might also be requiring testing vendors to create easy-to-navigate menus that allow students to revisit any questions they skipped or want to change the answers to. A core test-taking strategy on paper exams for many is to answer the items you know for sure first before revisiting the other questions. That strategy, however, is negated on a digital exam if there is no way to go back, and it could harm performance for students who would otherwise benefit from it.

Beyond being able to return to previous items on a digital exam, another key issue that should be a constant part of the conversation around navigability is the need for accessibility for students with disabilities. Aside from navigational concerns, students who are vision-impaired, for example, will need any images tied to a test item to take into account a range of issues that can include things as simple as colorblindness, and any videos will need accompanying audio. Ultimately, there must be vigilance around identifying these concerns on the school, district, and state level and discussing them with test providers, particularly when the stakes currently tied to standardized exams are taken into account.

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Filed Under: K12 Technology
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